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Maria Clark ('19) Knew Early on She Would Lead a 'Life of Service'

Maria Clark ('19) Knew Early on She Would Lead a 'Life of Service'

By Bob Castello
SJCS Communications Manager

Maria Clark learned early that she wanted to serve, and she has spent the ensuing years filling in the blanks -- how, where and for whom.

Growing up, Maria, a 2019 St. Joseph's Catholic School graduate, had scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine that led to 14 back surgeries, the last when she was in the seventh grade.

Maria, who spoke to Ms. Houmis' Catholic Social Teaching classes each semester this year, recalled all the help she received through those surgeries and the huge impact those individuals had on her.

"They were always super sweet, super kind, and I said to my mom, 'I want to be like them.' They were always patient, and they always just cared," Maria said. "Because of that, that's how I started my life of service."

That, along with the example set by her mother.

"If she thinks somebody is homeless, she'll help them," Maria said. "If she thinks somebody needs a backpack, she'll help them. She taught me from a very young age to help others."

In high school, a friend asked Maria to join her at Camp Joy, which ministers to those with special needs.

"I realized how much fun it was to work with individuals with special needs because they have such joy," she said. "Life for them is so sweet and so fun."

Maria took advantage of numerous service opportunities while in high school. Upon graduation, she enrolled at Liberty University in Virginia, and it didn't take long for her to find more opportunities to serve.

Shortly into her freshman year, Maria was asked about taking a mission trip to Africa. Through a series of fundraisers, Maria raised enough money to make the trip.

She discovered another group of needy children and felt compelled to help. She met a man who dreamed of building a school for those being left behind. It took four years, but with the help of a church and the organization with whom Maria had made the trip, they made the school a reality.

"There are 300 kids in the village, but only 100 can come to the school because it costs $30 a month," Maria said. "My job here as the director is to find local partners to be able to pay for these kids to go to school. There's a place to sleep if they don't have a home. My goal is to expand and build a special needs school."

"Whatever you do in service, do it with your heart. I love what I do."

Meanwhile, Maria graduated from Liberty with a degree in social work. She returned to Greenville and began working at Catholic Charities in the Upstate, which helps families and parents who cannot afford food and housing and provides them with necessities for a few days.

More recently, Maria took a position at Welcome Elementary School in Greenville as Communities-in-Schools (CIS) Site Coordinator, working with at-risk students, helping them to successfully learn, stay in school and prepare for life.

"I have 50 kids and they have behavior problems and also things going on at home," Maria said. "I support them and get them back on track."

She supports. She helps. Maria is a constant presence in others' lives.

"Whatever you do in service, do it with your heart," she said. "I love what I do."

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